National Geographic : 1977 Dec
(Continuedfrom page 735) was an assayer's scale to weigh a given link and an unglazed porcelain plate on which to rub it. The rub bing left a streak whose color determined the fineness of the gold. The chains were frequently long and heavy, perhaps because personal jewelry was exempt from some of the taxes levied on gold bars or bullion. Such early forerunners of the tax shelter would have had one notable disad vantage at sea. One can imagine some luck less nobleman being washed overboard in a storm and speeded to the bottom by his own tax-free wealth. Historians tend to dwell on Europe's im pact upon the New World, yet the reverse effect was incalculable. The flood of gold and silver that began to reach the Old World by the mid-16th century forever altered Europe's social and economic structure. Large coins struck from either precious metal, gold or silver, were still a rarity during the 14th and 15th centuries, and trade de pended heavily on smaller coins and the barter system. Almost overnight such coins began to appear in circulation, providing a universal standard of commerce. In addition to stimulating trade, the flood of money created a powerful new class of merchants, who proceeded to challenge, and often replace, the old nobility. Many of Eu rope's great ruling families never recovered. N OWHERE was the change more evi dent than on Europe's dinner tables. Among New World additions to Old World cuisine were corn (or maize, as it was known), potatoes, a variety of squashes, new types of beans, and chocolate. One can scarce ly imagine today's Italian cookery without the tomato, another New World contribution. Spaghetti, of course, had been introduced to Europe by Marco Polo at the end of the 13th century in the form of the Chinese noodle. Yet the all-important ingredient of spaghetti sauce failed to arrive from the New World until two centuries later! Despite the success of the tomato in Italy, it was largely rejected as food by people in the United States until the mid-19th century. The fruit was considered ornamental but poisonous. Contrary to popular belief, that indispens able American item, coffee, originated in the Old World. Its introduction to the Western Hemisphere, however, vastly increased the crop and gave rise to a European intellectual institution, the coffeehouse. Thus it was that the New World's endless variety of treasures filled the purses, the stomachs, and the spirits of the Old. Throughout my career in undersea arche ology I have been struck by a singular trag edy: the wholesale loss of original native treasures from the New World. How often I have seen a colleague emerge smiling from the depths with a gold coin or bar in his hand and heard the familiar shout, "Mendel, come ALL SEAFINDERS,INC. T ASTE FOR LUXURY: Lost off the Bahamas, a 17th-century Spanish ship carried a silver ewer (above), spoon,fork, and gilded charger (facing page). Perhaps they graced the captain's table-or perhaps they were bound for a grandee in Spain.